Review Summary: Iced Earth releases their first album without Matt Barlow in 12 years; an album with an interesting concept that is ruined by poor songwriting and a singer that just doesn’t fit.
Iced Earth, one of the premier Power and Thrash Metal bands of America, has come a long way since their debut in 1991. Though it was a little lackluster, Night of the Stormrider was a huge jump in quality by replacing awful singer Gene Adams with John Greely; and Greely would soon be replaced by Matt Barlow. Throughout the four releases that followed Stormrider, Iced Earth has never completely forgotten the aggressive riffs and music, or forsaken incredible songwriting; even while the band changed to a Power Metal style.
Well…until The Glorious Burden.
This is easily one of the least Thrash Metal releases from Iced Earth, and it shows. Though it would be understandable that the album would lack songs in the vein of “Brainwashed,” “Violate,” or “Angel’s Holocaust;” it is truly astounding that no song even matches songs like “Jack.” The album as a whole could have really benefitted from some of the dark atmospheres of any of the albums of yesteryear, and the heaviness is sorely missed. It is really unfortunate that the stagnation sharply began as a result of two points: The singer and the songwriting.
Tim “The Ripper” Owens replaced Matt Barlow after he was inspired to do some good for his country, and it was not for the better. Matt Barlow, like both John Greely and Gene Adams, has a fierce voice that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Thrash album. Unfortunately enough, the varied vocals of aggression and melody are long gone, though Owens isn’t exactly a bad singer; he is just not an adequate vocalist in Iced Earth. Sharing similarities with Rob Halford, his singing can be compared to many of the usual Power Metal singers by being light on the aggression in favor of higher-pitched singing.
Unfortunately, this does not work with Iced Earth or the material presented. Though the material is certainly the lightest the band has ever composed, the heavy chugging riffs still make “The Ripper’s” highly melodic output seem like a glove that does not fit. Owens would undoubtedly be more capable in any other Power Metal band, as his singing clicks with the band on only a few occasions; such as “Declaration Day” and “The Reckoning.” His singing on the former works well because the track is an anthemic powerhouse (and as such, is easily the best song on the album) while the latter captures an onslaught of heaviness from the band and Owens’s throat with his best performance in Iced Earth.
Other songs on the album are generally forgettable; containing occasional moments of quality that are ruined by one reason or another. Take “Waterloo,” a song that has a good chorus and an awesome riff…but is ruined by being overly repetitive and languishing by the end of it’s somewhat long run-time (much like some other tracks on the release). Other songs, like the cheesy “When the Eagle Cries,” suffer too much because of awful lyrics (“Another day, just like any other; out of the blue, it turned to horror…") and Owens’s only bad performance on the album. Unlike “I Died for You” or “Watching over Me,” the song is almost laughable because of his extremely over-wrought performance in the vocal and lyrical departments.
The Gettysburg Disc, though an interesting concept, is just far too boring for the 30 minute run-time. As much as the rare moments of brilliance shine through the duration, they come far too few and leave the listener feeling disappointed compared to “Dante’s Inferno,” “The Phantom Opera Ghost,” or “The Coming Curse.” The song lacks the melodies and power that made those songs true masterpieces, and it is unfortunate that a creative concept like that is wasted on songs that occasionally delve into dull, forgettable works.
Though Iced Earth tries something new with this album, it just does not work because of poor, boring songwriting and a singer that feels out-of-place. Tim Owens and Jon Schaffer, though both great musicians in their own right, do not fight together because of the former’s fantastic singing that doesn’t quite mold with the misplaced chugging and galloping riffs. Better luck next time, guys.